Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Dr. Doolittle


My slip on the ice at the White Lake afforded me the opportunity to seek medical care here in Mongolia.  I had to wait  5 days until we returned to “UB” before visiting a doctor.  The guidebook warned that the “biggest risk to your health in Mongolia may be the hospitals” which are “abysmal and best avoided”.  It advised that the only reliable option for health care was the SOS International Clinic were one could see a Western doctor albeit at Western prices.  So Stuart and I headed out to the clinic the morning after we returned from our trip.  I was hoping to have some x-rays to confirm my suspicion that I did in fact break my arm and to get some advice as to how long I could expect it to heal, and if was possible to continue my travels.

The clinic had one Mongolian doctor, and one ‘Western’ doctor.  Not knowing what medical training was like in Mongolia, I opted for the Western doctor.  The doctor, Dr. Peter, turned out to be a Bulgarian (what are the medical training standards in Bulgaria, I wonder?).  Upon describing my accident to Dr. Peter he laughed at me and then asked why In the world I  decided to come to Mongolia.  I told him it was pretty and he told me that he was trying to get out of there as soon as possible and that it was the worst place he’s ever been and that Iraq was a better place to be. Okay…. but could he diagnose what was wrong with my arm?  He felt around a bit (didn’t even ask me to remove my long sleeve shirt) and sent me for an x-ray.

I was close to tears at this point, longing for the friendly, interactive treatment I am used to at home.  Thankfully the Mongolian woman who took my x-rays was very nice and made me feel much better about my experience there (maybe I should have checked my prejudices at the door and opted for the Mongolian doctor – it would have also saved me $100).  She took some x-rays and then sent me back to the waiting room whilst Dr. Peter took a look.

While waiting for Dr. Peter to do his magic we had the pleasure of overhearing an American woman,  who had apparently recently arrived in Mongolia to work as a teacher, talking to the front desk staff.  She apparently was really offended by one of the forms she was asked to fill out, a Medical Information Release form, which gave her the option of allowing the clinic to release her information to her employers, insurance company or another hospitals.  I filed out the form too, I just didn’t check to box allowing them to give out information to my employer (not that I have one to give information to anyway).   She went on and on about how in “America you NEVER give out medical information” and that if they were “going to provide services to Americans, they need to do things the way Americans do things”.

The poor women behind the counter just smiled and took the abuse as the woman got more and more indignant and berated these poor women.  Stuart and I sunk down in our chairs and cursed her under our breath for upholding those American stereotypes we’ve been trying so hard to get away from.  I chuckled when I thought about the service she would get from Dr. Peter (In AMERICA the doctor does not laugh at the patient in her face).

Soon after my x-rays were dropped off (at least things here were fast) Dr. Peter pointed to me, called me the wrong name and beckoned me back to his office. He showed me my x-rays and pointed out the fracture.  Then he filled me in on what my treatment options were.  I asked a lot of questions, but had a hard time following.  I’m pretty sure he said something about my hand dying and falling off.  At the end of our ‘discussion’ we (i.e. he) decided that I should wear a sling and keep my arm immobile for a while.  He called a nurse in to help with the sling, who apparently moved too slow for him because he cursed her and all Mongolians as she came though the door.  The poor nurse looked like she had to put up with a lot from Dr. Peter.  He asked me again in front of the her why on earth I came to Mongolia and I told him that the country was really beautiful and the nurse added what I was about to say, that the people were really nice.  Dr. Peter scoffed.  He was nice enough to give the nurse a ‘present’ after she helped tie the sling, an extra safety pin, she said she would ‘keep it forever’.  Maybe Dr. Peter was all bark and no bite after all.  He asked me to come back in a week so that we could discuss ‘rehabilitation’  At $200 a pop, I don’t think so!


  1. Tina, I fell off my bicycle while riding down a steep hill at night on a gravel road and injured my wrist. I think there is a fracture so am taking it easy on that hand, but the medical services available here in Rio Grande City sometimes don’t seem so western either. I think I will forego trying to get an x ray for the time being. Maybe when I get to McAllen.
    I love the pictures.

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